Even with the vast amount of information available to us through the media and internet, the amount of destruction, death, and suffering that is a result of the earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent nuclear catastrophe in Japan is hard to comprehend. It is enough to make the brain of any person with a capacity for empathy short-circuit. Yet losing our minds helps nobody.

This morning I came across this passage in a piece titled How Japan’s religions confront tragedy by Dan Gilgoff. From the CNN Belief blog,

“There are many Buddhist explanations of why calamities happen: from collective karma to seeing calamities as signs of apocalypse,” says Jimmy Yu, an assistant professor of Buddhism and Chinese religions at Florida State University. “And perhaps all of them are irrelevant to what needs to be done.”

Indeed, where Christianity, Judaism or Islam are often preoccupied with causes of disaster – the questions of why God would allow an earthquake, for example – Eastern traditions like Buddhism and Shinto focus on behavior in reaction to tragedy.

“It’s very important in Japanese life to react in a positive way, to be persistent and to clean up in the face of adversity, and their religions would emphasize that,” says University College Cork’s Bocking. “They’ll say we have to develop a powerful, even joyful attitude in the face of adversity.”

With this admirable spirit in mind, here are some resources on three practices that we can do in times like these.

Dana: The Practice of Giving
Click here for a Q & A with Andrew Olendzki on Dana practice.
Here are some organizations that are doing good work:
American Humane Association
Doctors Without Borders
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) (*you can also text REDCROSS to 90999 for a quick, easy $10 donation)
International Medical Corps
Save the Children

The Salvation Army in Japan
Further reading:
How To Help Japan: Earthquake Relief Options (Huffington Post)

Metta Practice
Metta Meditation instruction:
May We All Be Happy… by Gil Fronsdal
Click here for a guided audio Metta Meditation by Sharon Salzberg.

Tonglen Practice
Tonglen instructions:
Tonglen: The Practice of Giving and Receiving by Sogyal Rinpoche
Tonglen on the Spot by Pema Chodron


And how do you protect others when
protecting yourself?
By pursuing the practice
developing it, devoting yourself to it.
  —Shakyamuni Buddha

In times of crisis, we often feel we don’t have the time or energy to practice, but those are precisely the times when the practice is most necessary. This is what we’ve been practicing for: the situations where the practice doesn’t come easily. When the winds of change reach hurricane force, our inner refuge of mindfulness, concentration, and discernment is the only thing that will keep us from getting blown away. When we can be secure in our inner source for true happiness, we don’t expose ourselves to the devastation that comes when outside hopes for happiness and security are dashed. We have our shelter, our place of security, inside. And we needn’t be afraid that this is an escapist shelter. When the basis of our well-being is firm within, we can act with true courage and compassion for others, for we’re coming from a solid position of calmness and strength.

So take heart. Do what you can to help the living, and dedicate the merit of your practice to the dead. We may be powerless to change the past, but we do have the power to shape the present and the future by what we do, moment to moment, right now. And in maintaining our intention to be as skillful as possible in thought, word, and deed, we’ll find the only true refuge there is.

-Thanissaro Bhikkhu, “What We’ve Been Practicing For”

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